Self-Care in the Workplace – Lessons From the Frontline

Words by Kevin, 26, VIC

Self-care is all about ensuring that you remain physically, mentally, and spiritually recharged. Considering the frenetic pace at which the modern day world runs, it is more important than ever. But is self-care just about making time for yourself?

As a health professional delivering therapy in the community, there are often multiple risk assessments and protocols to minimise the risk of danger to us as clinicians. Recently, I found myself embroiled in a difficult discussion with my colleagues. We were discussing the suitability of visiting a particular client’s home following reports of family violence during a previous inpatient hospital admission.

We discussed logistics, the client’s inability to drive and how that jeopardized her access to a much-needed service. We discussed the unpredictable nature of the client’s partner and how his poor health, literacy and anger issues could contribute to his behaviour escalating during therapy. We discussed which way the wind would blow, the logistics of how to execute an unassailable escape using the laws of aerodynamics to our advantage (not really, but you get the point).

The duration of the conversation seemed to see no end until a colleague not directly involved in our discussion chimed in and firmly stated that the discussion was moot. She explained in a matter of fact way that there is risk involved to the clinician and therefore we shouldn’t put ourselves in that situation.

I was caught off guard by her comments and lost for words. I was already mentally prepared to undertake the task. But her words had halted the discussion, and almost abruptly, the group accepted the motion. It seemed as though her brazen words dispelled an illusion within the group. Meanwhile I continued to ruminate, thinking “what about the client?”

Now, in the end, everything worked out for the client. She was able to engage with our services without the detriment to clinician safety.

I remember this moment vividly because her comments made me stop and think. We are willing to make sacrifices on our own end, for the purpose of serving another person. We care about others, and naturally that means we just want to help – no matter what the cost sometimes.

The scenario I described can be quite commonplace. The team was in an active discussion to deliberate on how we can alleviate the risks of completing a home-based session for this client. It’s almost as if the entire team had already decided that the plan was to proceed with the home visit in the back of their mind, so was this collaboration merely a formality?

Our colleague challenged this thought. She is one of the most empathetic and caring individuals I’ve ever met and yet she was so clear with where the boundaries were drawn.

So why don’t we value our safety more than we do? Why don’t we put ourselves first? If we think logically, we know that if something was to happen to one of our clinicians, how could they continue to do their job? We need to follow our own self-care principles so we can continue making an impact for those in need.

It sounds so simple. So why don’t we?

In my reflection I knew that deep down, I actually agreed that it was for the best. But there was another side of me that felt like I needed to not accept the decision easily, as if my compliance was an admission of guilt. What will everyone think of me? Will they think I’m scared? Will they think that I’m being selfish and putting myself first?

And there it was. Selfishness. Why do I feel as if I’m being selfish putting myself first? These two ideals are not mutually exclusive.

I’ve realised that self-care isn’t just making time for yourself. We all know the typical mediums of exercise, eating well, and getting a good night sleep. But the actual principles are what we should permeate through our decisions. It’s the realisation and acceptance that we cannot do everything, setting boundaries in our everyday life. We ourselves are a finite resource and we should treasure but also nurture our resources. We are all worthy of self-care, and it’s never selfish to think that way.

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